Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Questions without Notice
Mr President, my question is to Senator Birmingham, the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment. Is the minister aware the Tasmanian government has approved logging in critical nesting habitat areas for the EPBC endangered-species-listed swift parrot and that that has been approved in direct contravention of expert scientific advice? That advice was that logging will not support the conservation of the species. Minister, is the government happy to stand by and watch the swift parrot's habitat logged to the bird's extinction?
I thank Senator Milne for her question. Senator Milne would well understand and appreciate, having been around these debates for a very long time, that regional forest agreements operate in a manner to provide balance between environmental, social and economic outcomes for regional communities. These arrangements in place in Tasmania, as I understand it, align with the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement and of course they have certain exemptions under the EPBC Act, which has long been the case since that act came into existence. If there is evidence to suggest that that forestry operations contravene the Regional Forestry Agreement, then those are rightly matters for the Tasmanian government. It is certainly this government's position that we want to see economic advancement in Tasmania, we want to see the creation of opportunities there, but we also want to ensure the preservation of endangered species. Our policies are all about making sure that we preserve jobs in Tasmania as well as threatened species in Tasmania. We are confident that that is what the Tasmanian government is seeking to do as well. As a government we have taken steps in relation to threatened species protection through the appointment of a Threatened Species Commissioner, which has been welcomed by outfits such as BirdLife Australia, who have praised that and acknowledged the potential there. I quote from BirdLife Australia:
A champion for threatened species within government will help to ensure our recovery efforts and funding programs are more strategic and, importantly, throw a lifeline for Australia’s threatened birds …
We are serious about working in this space but we are just as serious about making sure that jobs and opportunities continue to exist, and exist in greater abundance in the future, in states like Tasmania.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister saying that the Commonwealth has abrogated all responsibility for threatened species because of the regional forest agreements and, if not, will you now move in to stop the logging of this critical nesting habitat? Secondly, will you stop the automatic rollover of the forest agreements now we know they are a complete and total failure when it comes to protecting threatened species?
Senator Milne does like to come into this place and play judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the full assessment of these debates. Clearly her word is final in these matters. But what she says is not the case. Firstly, as I said in the original answer, and Senator Milne should appreciate this, the regional forest agreements act outside, in a sense, of the terms of the EPBC Act. Senator Milne, you appreciate how that works. You have every capacity, through the Greens, to prosecute your arguments in Tasmania with the Tasmanian government if you wish. This government is serious about supporting Tasmania in the creation of new jobs and new economic activity, while taking our responsibility seriously for the protection of threatened species, and that is exactly what we will continue to do with our policies but without it being to the detriment of the future of the Tasmanian economy.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister now accept that handing Commonwealth responsibility to protect matters of national significance to the environment back to the states is a pathway to their destruction, given that the Tasmanian government has logged these areas in contravention of scientific advice?
Emphatically not. We all know that the Greens would not be satisfied until every logging activity in the country was brought to a halt. We all know that the Greens would not be satisfied until all jobs in these industries were pushed out of existence. We all know that, in terms of extinction, what the Greens want to make extinct are industries like the logging industry and jobs like those of the people in the logging industry. We want to make sure that the nation's environmental laws work in the most efficient and effective way possible. That is about reducing red tape, which is exactly why our one-stop shop proposal is the right way to go, to make sure we have the least amount of red tape, or green tape, when it comes to projects being approved and the maximum opportunity for jobs and projects to go ahead as long as there are safe and sound environmental safeguards, which there absolutely will be under us. (Time expired)